Tennessee School Boots Teacher After He Started Gay Straight Alliance

Chris Richeson

How is this still a thing that happens? A school in Tennessee has refused to renew a contract with a beloved teacher, and gee whiz what a coincidence, it happened right after he helped some kids start a GSA.

Harassment at the Union County High School in Tennessee seems to be at epidemic proportions, with anonymous homophobic posters going up in the hallways. Sixty years ago, it would have been about black students; forty years ago, it might’ve been about Jews; now here we are in 2016 and apparently nobody’s learned anything from history.

After Chris Richeson helped some students start a GSA, he too became a target for harassment — from his coworkers. He says that school officials repeatedly pressured him to change the club, and stood in the way of club activities, even stuff as basic as making announcements.

Finally, the school told him they wouldn’t renew his contract, but not why. It isn’t too hard to guess.

Richeson says that there is literally zero record of any disciplinary activity against him, and that he had the highest performance rating it was possible for a teacher to have. So why else would they let him go?

It’s like in the 1970s, when California homophobes tried to put a bill on the ballot that would legalize the firing of any teacher even suspected of homosexuality. Back then, Harvey Milk helped defeat the measure. It’s a shame that Tennessee of 2016 is so far behind California of 1978.

He says that he’ll be leaving Tennessee, but his students aren’t so lucky. They’re stuck in a dangerous school that would rather sweep their very existence under the rug than protect them. Will there be another instructor at the school brave enough to stand up to this harassment and protect the kids left behind? Hopefully.

But it’s understandable that teachers would be afraid to take that step now. Instead, they may have to start something more secretive and underground — a hidden GSA, like how LGBTs had to creep around in the shadows in the 1950s. It’s ridiculous that in this day and age, we’re forcing kids to live like it’s the 1950s.

There’s a petition to reinstate Chris at the school. As of now it has 616 signatures. If we were him, we’d be reluctant to head back — maybe instead the petition should be for defending the ongoing existence of the school’s GSA.

matt baume

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